Among the glitter and balloons arranged throughout the showroom are memories cast in steel of the last three decades. A dark blue 1973 Chevy Nova SS, a mint green 1976 Chevelle Laguna, a maroon 1985 Monte Carlo SS, a two-tone 1991 Blazer S-10 and a red 1998 Camero Z28all fully restored, complete with the showroom shinehave come together from across the state to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Ryan Chevrolet.
It was November 1973 when 53-year-old Jim Ryan, the son of a car salesman, packed up his family and moved to Minot to fulfill his lifelong dream of owning a GM Chevrolet dealership. And convincing his wife, Anne, to use their life's savings to finance his dream was easier than one would think.
"My father was the best salesman on the planet," said Kathy Gaddie, one of Ryan's five daughters and the current owner and operator of Ryan Chevrolet. "She was very supportive of him and had faith in his business experience."
That experience spanned more than a decade.
As the son of an auto salesman, Ryan had car-fever and salesmanship in his blood. He began working for General Motors in the Chevrolet Motor Division in 1941 after obtaining a mechanical engineering degree from the GM Technical Institute, now Kettering.
"Chevrolet was everything to him. With his Irish background, he loved the bow tie," Gaddie said.
Although World War II temporarily put Ryan's career on hold, after serving his country he returned to his passioncarsserving in numerous management capacities, such as sales and district manager, gradually making his way from his hometown of Flint, Mich., west to Minnesota and later to North Dakota.
"Growing up, I never lived in the same place for more than two years," Gaddie said, adding that the managers were moved to where they were needed.
Ryan had to rethink his game plan when it became evident that the next destination was Chicago, because he didn't want to raise his daughters there.
Passing on Chicago, he and the family moved to Grand Forks after he was offered the general manager position at the Rydell GM Chevrolet dealership.
Seventeen years later, Ryan received a call from Chevy offering him the opportunity to buy the GM Chevy dealership in Minot after the sudden death of the previous owner as the result of a car accident. Taking a personal and financial risk, the Ryan family packed up once again and made the move to Minot.
During Ryan's tenure as owner, the dealership underwent some extensive remodeling and addition projects.
The first was the south showroom, completed in the 1991. Gaddie said her father made the decision to expand the showroom because he wanted to have more vehicles inside, partly to protect them from the winter, but more so to give customers the opportunity to sit in the vehicles in the comfort of the indoors before taking them out for a test drive.
The second addition, which began as an addition of a handicapped bathroom to meet building accessibility standards, turned into the addition of the quick lube service in 1996. The quick lube and service concept as part of a dealership was still in its infancy at that time, so the addition was a risk.
"To make that kind of commitment with the construction and the potential challenges was something," Gaddie said.
After 10 years in business, Ryan began to look to the futureboth his and the company'scontemplating whether to sell the business or keep it in the family and pass over the reigns to the next generation of Ryans.
Ryan talked with all of his daughters and their spouses about the possibility, but it was Kathy and her husband, Michael, who packed up their three young children and moved to Minot from Grand Forks in 1983.
"It's something I never thought I'd be involved in," she said. "If I could have looked into a crystal ball and seen my future, I would have gotten a business degree."
Instead, Gaddie got a teaching degree and worked as a high school speech, theater and English teacher in Grand Forks.
For first two years after the move, Gaddie said she took time off to care for their children, but eventually began working part-time at the dealership. While Gaddie's husband learned the management aspects of the auto industry as the general manager, Gaddie starting off making customer satisfaction calls and then gradually moved on to other areas within the business.
"The more I got involved, the more I fell in love," she said. "There's something very addictive about this business.....there's always challenges and new things to learn."
And learn she did. The different aspects of the auto industry gave Gaddie lessons not learned in the classroom.
"In education, your job is to make sure that at the end of the year, the kids are successful in the skill sets you were suppose to teach," she said, "but in the auto industry, selling and making a profit, managing expenses.....it was totally foreign to anything I had experienced in teaching."
In 1986, Gaddie became the face and voice of Ryan Chevrolet, and quickly had to learn how to market their product and have "customers put you on their consideration list."
Less than 10 years later, in 1998, she took over as the owner and operator of Ryan Chevrolet. Following in the footsteps of her father, Gaddie made some improvements of her own with the addition of the parts and accessory showroom in 2003.
"We wanted to be a full-service dealership so people could see all of what their car could be,'' she said, adding that before the accessory showroom was added, many of their customers would simply go elsewhere to purchase items to personalize their rides.
All of the projects, including the most recent car wash addition in 2004, have been done to increase customer satisfaction and ultimately, business.
"Our first job is always satisfying the customers," she said. With the recent additions and of those in the past, "We are a full-service dealership and we feel we provide everything our customers want."
In keeping with customer satisfaction, Gaddie said the company will now focus on improving the Web site to make navigation easier for customers as well as to match the virtual showroom with the physical one by representing all of the services Ryan GM Chevrolet offers.
Reflecting on all of the changes of the last three decades in business,"It's a success story when you hit those kinds of anniversaries," Gaddie said. In the 35 years since Ryan Chevrolet began, "I believe we have a positive name and solid business," she said, "and we are very grateful for Minot and the surrounding communities' support." The company now employs about 70 people.
In her 10 years as an owner, Gaddie said she has experienced some personal and professional accomplishments.
"There's a sense of satisfaction with success.....growing the business with the right people in the right places doing their best," she said. Personally, she added, "Being a woman in this business, it was not as easy as it could have been, but being accepted by my peers and seeing the year-to-year growth makes me feel good about myself."
Gaddie is helping other women enter the auto industry as the 2009 chairwoman of the GM women's advisory council, which helps women interested in dealership ownership as well as to help the industry as a whole to better market to women, whom studies have shown have a tremendous influence in purchases.
One woman who may benefit from Gaddie's experience is her own daughter, Mary, who is being groomed along with Gaddie's son John to continue the family name, becoming the fourth generation to be involved in the auto industry.
While the future of the industry is uncertain in the U.S., Gaddie said whether or not the auto industry bailout passes through Congress, "It gets down to a lot of hard work and good business practices" to make a company a success.